This trip is our fifth journey on the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway (AICW or ICW for short), and that reality affects our experience in more ways and differently than we might have anticipated.
First, we have favorite places we looked forward to visiting and without exception have enjoyed these again: Cocoa Village, New Smyrna Beach and Palm Coast as we wound our way northward in Florida are certainly examples of this. We even felt just a little sad that 2012 is most likely our last stop at these places, but we’ve said that before… so who knows! Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island is always a favorite stop, but we know we will return there! With friends Jan and Spence always willing to take in “their boat people”, we are trusting that if we arrive by car, it wouldn’t be too different! We also love meandering quietly through the isolated Georgia salt marshes and along the miles and miles of uninterrupted South Carolina sea grass. We returned to Dawtaw Island, just north of Beaufort, SC and once again enjoyed the silent beauty of the Morgan River, the incredible sunrises and the delicious repast served at the Sawgrass Grill right at the marina.
Conversely, spots along the ICW we enjoyed before weren’t so friendly this time…We had hoped to jump out (into the Atlantic Ocean) from Fernandina Beach/St. Mary’s to St. Simons and then from St. Simons to Tybee Road/Hilton Head….to miss the slow trudging through much of Georgia… We had both jumps well planned, way points entered on the chart plotter and great weather predictions…. until the morning of departure from Fernandina! The winds rose unexpectedly, and we thought better of trying the first, easy, jump… still hoping we could make the second, longer one… So we took the inland route… but it did not compute that the “inland” route through St. Andrews Sound actually goes to the very tip of Cumberland Island and thus VERY close to the open ocean…. Wel-l-l… we got confirmation that we made the right decision NOT to jump out into the Atlantic proper, but we had a rather rough ride on the Sound…. 4-5 ft. waves breaking over the bow and splashing the TOP of the bimini…. No time to look for the wild horses roaming the island that we had spotted on earlier -and gentler- crossings of the Sound!! Needless to say, even with a much better weather prediction the next day, we didn’t even think about doing the next jump outside!
And then, there are the perennial “Do we really have to?” portions of the ICW journey, those necessary points along the way we must endure to get north. Most significant are the infamous “ICW Trouble Spots” noted in all the cruising guide: Brick Hill, Jekyll Creek, Little Mud & Hell Gate in GA; The Brickyard, Elliott Cut, McClellanville, Minim Creek & the Rock Pile in SC; and Shallote Inlet, Lockwoods Folly, Cape Fear River & Snows Cut in NC. These are areas with incredible current and/or shoaling that defies regular dredging. Either way, they must be traversed at certain points in the tide cycle (high, rising, or at least, hours from low tide and hopefully at slack, but certainly not flood or ebb tide). Then, of course, there are always the 7-9 ft. tides of Georgia to contend with when tying up for the night.
Most onerous, though, are the “green-eyed monsters” of the sea marshes, gigantic flies that have moved aboard by the hundreds when the boat crossed into Georgia. They hang threateningly from the ceiling of the fly bridge…. silently lurking, waiting for your most vulnerable moment to swoop down and strike, fast and deadly. We made it through Georgia with only a few finding the fly bridge and naively thought we were early enough in the season to escape their torture- Almost!!! After Dawtaw we started picking up riders and just as we hit Minim Creek, a spot infamous for its very strong current and shallowness, they swarmed!! We were quite the sight: Carolyn, fly swatter in one hand and a rolled cruising guide in the other, swinging madly, hitting every which way to keep the devils away from my head and face, slaying them so fast you could almost hear the bodies fall- Meanwhile, I tried desperately to keep us in the channel while duckin’ and dancin’ to avoid Carolyn’s killer blows and keep those jaws on wings off my legs and feet- As quickly as it appeared, the swarm vanished! Killed in action?? Judging by the literally hundreds of bodies strewn all over the fly bridge floor, perhaps!! In any case, we survived and somehow Sojourner stayed in sufficient water to progress beyond the worst spots and we pressed on.
So now we are on land for a week with our friend Tanya who lives right on the ICW just south of Wrightsville Beach, NC. …or just north of the Cape Fear River which goes to Wilmington, NC proper. And we realize we haven’t posted at all about this journey!! We have noticed interesting sights and enjoyed immense beauty, but we haven’t had the urge or taken the time to share either via Sojourner’s Sea Stories. Hopefully this posting and its small Flickr pix set companion will at least partially rectify our omission. For those who would like more pictures and details about cruising northward on the ICW from Florida to North Carolina, we offer the following hot links to Sojourner Sea Stories postings (and accompanying Flickr picture sets) made during our earlier journeys through this area. The postings are archived by month so for each of the following, the last posting in the month will show up first. Scroll down to the bottom and read back upward for the chronologically correct order of things: